Heavy, deep-pan passion on a light and wry base - Life and Style - The Independent

Heavy, deep-pan passion on a light and wry base

FILM

MEET Victor. The hero of James Mangold's outstanding debut, Heavy (15), is not the sort of fellow you come across that often at the movies - at least, not centre-screen. Obese, gauche, inarticulate, timid, Victor (played with consummate empathy by Pruitt Taylor Vince) wanders through the kitchen of the diner he works in, padding around like a wounded elephant. The first few times we see him, he is stealing furtive glances at a beautiful, college- drop-out waitress, Callie (Liv Tyler), while making a pizza - struggling simultaneously with his libido and a piece of dough. Victor at first seems to have been named out of irony or bathos. But it is his quiet values that triumph. The sort of fat, ugly figure so often disfranchised by the movies, neglected or mocked, is here loved and lionised.

Victor is the son of the equally rotund Dolly (Shelley Winters), owner of the pizza joint in upstate New York. We get to know this establishment as we might by hanging around there for a week or two: the early scenes are all observation, as shards of this down-at-heel world piece themselves together. Soon the tensions of the place are breaking out like cracks in the wallpaper. Dolly has taken on the pretty new waitress in order to make a match for her son. The other waitress, Dolores (Deborah Harry, embracing frowzy middle-age), is deeply envious. Someone has written on the ladies'-room mirror the word "slut". Mangold, taking his time with an ambling rhythm, draws us into this quartet's anguished lives. We learn of Dolly's encroaching illness; Victor's forlorn fantasies; Callie's boyfriend troubles. The characters become sharper and more sympathetic.

None more so than Victor. Early on he is a figure of fun or pity: posing for Callie's camera with weary self-contempt when she takes snapshots in the kitchen; narrowing his eyes in incipient obsession when he discovers some photographs of Callie herself, and filching one to put on his fridge; going on a diet after struggling into his jeans. He fantasises about saving Callie from drowning. We see that he has imagined a triangular rock into the shape of his beloved - an image of how a lover will distort the whole world into his sweetheart's likeness. But his awkwardness is tenderly observed: the way he is forever reaching the point of approaching her, before being knocked aside by some casual blow of fate - a Prufrock in the pantry. His inarticulacy is wonderfully expressive, speaking of his gentleness and confusion. And when he asserts himself, to criticise Dolores for bullying Callie, he routs her with his wryness: "You don't have to be nice; just be nicer."

Liv Tyler is the 19-year-old daughter of Aerosmith vocalist Steve Tyler, and already a considerable actress (she has recently played the lead in Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty). She has long limbs and pouting, Lolita- ish lips. Early on, she looks disaffected, as though she longed to be somewhere - anywhere - else. Yet Callie has a sensitivity towards her surroundings, and comes to feel affection towards her colleagues. She senses Victor's decency, and his unfulfillable yearning. In a moving finale, she quits the diner, and says good-bye to Victor, her pretty face quivering with emotion, while her boyfriend waits impatiently. Tyler captures wonderfully the girl's understanding that she has a world to go to beyond all this, and that Victor does not.

Writer-director James Mangold rarely puts a foot wrong. His eyes and ears are open to oddity. Personal problem phone-ins on the radio trickle through the film like a dismal drizzle. In a bizarre scene in which Victor goes to a conference for chefs, Mangold's disdainful eye alights on a row of greasy sausages rotating obscenely on a grill. Elsewhere a noticeboard of the tariff lists "pastrami - when available". Mangold shows the precision and assurance of a true director.

An award-winner at this year's Sundance Festival, Heavy confirms the pattern I wrote about in last week's yearly arts round-up in the Sunday Review, joining independent films such as Before Sunrise and Spanking the Monkey as among the most accomplished and challenging American movies of 1995. In Victor it gives us an unprepossessing hero, who comes to enchant us, without making him grotesque or especially heroic. He is simply ordinary, in a way that few people are in movies these days.

Jafar Panahi's The White Balloon (U) is also an award-winner. In fact, this Iranian movie arrives here festooned with prizes from film festivals around the world. The story is simple, to the point of being slight. On the eve of the Iranian New Year, a seven-year-old girl begs her mother for a handsome new goldfish. After the mother acquiesces, the girl loses the banknote with which she was to buy the fish. Her search for the note, in tandem with her brother, brings her into contact with a number of strangers, including an Afghan refugee. The movie is modestly shot, though with elegant use of space and composition, and boasts a sturdily querulous performance from the little girl (Aida Mohammadkhani). But it is hard to see what the fuss is about.

It may be the desire of critics and audiences to return to a kind of cinematic innocence. Like Babe, this is a sweet-tempered, well-crafted little film, whose fable you expect to resonate beyond the cinema. Yet somehow it doesn't. Unlike Animal Farm, what you see here is what you get, unless you want to read into the story a mild, Kilplingesque moral about striving and succeeding, or fulfilment leading only to further desire. Perhaps credit is also being given to an Iranian film simply for being there. In fact, the movie feels as if it has been emasculated by the necessity not to offend, a child's fable being the least likely form to ruffle the authorities. It is a victim of censorship rather than an act of defiance.

At its best, The White Balloon shows us an unfamiliar, everyday Iran: its shops and its streets; hawkers conning passers-by, except using snakes rather than cards; the hubbub of voices and the din of traffic with which the movie starts. It does not make for a great cinematic experience, and even at 85 minutes is not without its longueurs. But we do get to see, for once, the fundamentals of the country - instead of just its fundamentalism.

Cinema details: Review, page 50.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

    Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

    Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

    £26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

    Retail Business Analyst

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week